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Clueless on College

A study finds many parents and students don’t know how much college costs

According to recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, when it comes to the cost of college, people are often clueless. The study found that both parents and students were way off when asked to estimate the cost of one year at a public, four-year college.

The report surveyed more than 25,000 ninth grade students and their parents about the cost of college. Luckily for parents, their estimates were closer than that of the students. The parents estimates were off by an average of $8,800 while students were off by an average of $10,500. About 57 percent of parents and students overestimated costs, while 32 percent underestimated the costs. The reasons for the misfires? Researchers theorized that media coverage of student loan debt and the cost of college plays a part. They also found that both parents and students tended to focus on a college’s sticker price, instead of what they’ll pay when scholarships and grants are considered.

Obviously there’s no room for guesswork when it comes to the cost of college. If you’re unsure of what you’re getting into, first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to see what aid you or your kid can get. Then, with that number in mind, head to the school’s site. College websites should include a net price calculator. Simply plug in your details and these tools do some hypothetical math for you. If you’d like an even more drilled-down estimate of the costs, try your hand at some additional math yourself. As USA Today reports, divide the net price for one year at the college by the family income. If the ratio of college cost compared to income is less than 25 percent, you’ll likely be able to afford that school.

Chris O'Shea

Chris O'Shea